The city has settled a lawsuit filed by a former resident who said police unlawfully confiscated 40 to 50 medical marijuana plants and forced him to become a police informant.
Bruce Benedict, 45, sued the Seal Beach police for $1 million in August 2008 alleging violations of civil and safety codes, false imprisonment, battery and trespass.
"I'm happy that I won. I'm happy that they got slapped in the face," Benedict said. "It's not about the money. These (cops) are bad for society."
City Manager David Carmany said the city paid $32,500 to settle the suit.
Attorney Glen Tucker, of the Joint Powers Insurance Authority, said the case was settled for economic reasons and the city and the officers were not liable. Tucker added he could not comment on the suit because of his contract with the city.
Benedict said he is a patient and caregiver of medical marijuana, which allows him to grow and distribute the drug to patients with prescriptions under California law. He was prescribed medical marijuana six years ago because he suffers from hepatitis C and has had kidney failure twice, he said.
In February 2008, Seal Beach police Officers Mike Henderson and David Barr entered Benedict's apartment and took photos of his marijuana plants, the lawsuit says.
Benedict said he provided the officers with proper documentation to show he was a caregiver and patient of medical marijuana.
When the officers took the evidence to the District Attorney's Office, no action was taken, court records show. Medical marijuana is legal under state law but federal law prohibits it.
The evidence was turned over to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, leading to the search of Benedict's apartment and his arrest, court records show. Benedict also said police forced him to become an informant for Seal Beach police and to orchestrate drug deals in the area.
He said he was locked up in a cell and handcuffed to a chair for about 10 hours without being charged with a state crime.
In their response to Benedict's suit, the officers countered that he offered to become an informant to avoid federal charges and was never a medical marijuana caregiver, court records show. The police also contend Benedict was an informant for the DEA, not the department.
Benedict said the case should have never been turned over to the DEA. He claims the officers' contentions are proven wrong by their willingness to settle.
"They cut the check. They knew they were out of line," he said. "They wronged me something fierce."
Benedict's lawyer, Jeff Schwartz, said this case will be a wake up call to municipalities who are looking to circumvent state law and enforce federal law when they don't have the authority to do so.
"My hope is they just get over themselves and what they wish the law was and enforce the law," he said. "These are officers sworn to uphold the law in the state of California and I don't think it's appropriate... to go out and intentionally interfere with people's rights under the medical marijuana program."
This is the second medical marijuana settlement in the last year in Orange County.
Garden Grove in June paid out $139,000 in attorneys fees after a man sued saying police illegally confiscated 8 grams of medical marijuana. The suit, including city attorney fees, cost Garden Grove about $219,000.
"These cities have to get tired of paying out this money," Schwartz said. "When you're sworn to uphold the law then that's what your job is. If you keep violating (the law), you keep costing your city more and more money."
By JAIMEE LYNN FLETCHER
February 10, 2010
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City settles medical marijuana suit for $32,500